Denise is the single mother of preteen twins. She works full time and takes odd jobs to earn extra cash for her family. The boys’ father isn’t involved in their lives. And while Denise is a Christian and would like to attend church, she and the boys come rarely. However, the small church she goes to about once every three months often has special programs and events for kids, which they almost always attend. Faith is important to Denise, but her reality is that she’s stretched too thin, works constantly, and is always juggling her many responsibilities. Someday she might be able to go to church regularly, but that day may not come for many years.
Chances are, you minister to families similar to Denise’s. A growing number of families today may be perfectly open to church, but not attending. Some may simply be “fringe” families—those you see occasionally. They may be the ones with kids you know by name but not by story. These families require a special ministry approach where your main objective is to love and serve with the intention of making your church and ministry accessible to them—even though they’re unable to get plugged in. Here are eight great ways you can effectively minister to families on the fringe.
1. Provide support.
Many of these families have a lot going on and may have needs they can’t meet on their own. Your church may offer support they’re not aware of, such as Christian counseling with your pastor, homework help, meals, or parenting help. Let parents know what your church has to offer, and they may be willing to venture deeper into your church.
2. Invite these families to ministry events.
Most ministries offer events throughout the year. These families are likely already on your mailing list, so go ahead and send an invitation. In addition, personally call them to invite them to attend as well. A phone call is the single best way to get people to show up—and it sends a caring and personal message.
3. Send notes and cards.
Birthdays, graduations, the birth of a child, and other life events warrant a “touch” from your ministry. Sending a card on these occasions makes a great personal connection. It’s also a great way to invite families to your next event or service.
4. Grow a garden.
Numerous churches provide family ministry through this slightly unconventional idea: They use portions of their property during the summer to sponsor family gardening projects. For instance, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas, invites families to cultivate and maintain its community garden and then gives the harvest to homeless friends who also use its facilities for showers. Other churches provide the produce to shelters, church neighbors, and the church families themselves. Some invite families who don’t have garden space of their own to plant an area and tend it. Others, such as the Church of St. Michael, Prior Lake, Minnesota, set up a rotating schedule of families who take turns tending the entire garden throughout the week. A gardening project is a great way to get families to your church in the warm evenings and lets them learn, explore, and relax together as they serve others.
5. Provide practical assistance.
Families on the fringe often have practical, sometimes pressing, needs.
For instance, a Colorado family got terrible news recently when the mother was diagnosed with cancer. The family, which was struggling financially before the diagnosis, didn’t know where to turn. They’d taken their daughter to a local church’s special events for a couple of years but never attended regularly. The church now provides rides for the daughter to continue attending events and Sunday school, provides a weekly meal to the family, and has sent its pastor to minister to and counsel the family at home.
Other examples of practical assistance include roof repairs, fundraisers for seriously ill children, tutoring, even providing swimming lessons for underprivileged kids. Providing practical assistance is being the hands and feet of Jesus, and it’s one of the best ways we can minister to families with a tenuous connection to the church.
6. Share meals and celebrations.
Potlucks are a wonderful way to connect families, and research shows that sharing meals together is one of the most effective ways to build relationships. Saint Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church in Huntington Beach, California, puts a unique spin on its family potlucks. Families gather for food, conversation, and activities, and the church provides caregivers to monitor kids in close proximity to where the adults get to socialize. It’s all free. Invite these families into your church to share food, conversation, and also to participate in your celebrations.
7. Have fun together.
Not every ministry event needs to include a full-blown lesson and Bible study. Sometimes, especially for overstressed and overbooked families, letting them have simple fun is the more effective ministry. Christmas caroling, movie nights, swimming parties, game days, science experiment Saturdays—all these activities need one agenda: fun.
8. Make your vacation Bible school count.
VBS continues to be one of the most effective ways to connect kids and their families to God’s Word and
your church. Given the combination of shorter school breaks and a rapidly expanding menu of options, though, many families find it difficult to fit VBS into their busy schedule.
To meet this challenge, yours must be an experience kids refuse to miss. Creating a mountaintop experience kids love requires intentionality.
Evaluate your VBS.
Ask questions such as: What aspects of last year’s VBS did the kids talk about most? Which aspects flopped? What do we wish we’d done differently? What would we do if money or staffing didn’t matter? How could we add an element of the unexpected to each day and keep kids coming back? Is our VBS an experience something we’d be excited about attending ourselves? If not, why?
Excellence is the result of attitude, not budgets. Creating an event kids will love doesn’t necessarily require a larger budget, but it does require greater attention to details.
For many kids and their families, VBS may be the only time during the year they’ll participate in your ministry. You have one opportunity to impress them and create an inviting experience that brings them back.
Intentionally form relationships.
The most exciting kids ministry in town can only claim that title until another church offers something bigger and better. So it’s relationships—relationships that often begin during VBS—that’ll ultimately connect kids and their parents to your ministry.
Jerry Wooley is the vacation Bible school ministry specialist for LifeWay Christian Resources.
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